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To my surprise I discovered that she had already done so.
"Mr. Morris and Mr. Lord both had to go over their accounts, so I assumed that you would probably wish to," she said with a smile.
I stuffed the envelope into my pocket without daring to look at it, and moved toward the door.
"I'll be down as usual in the morning," I said to Lord.
"Not necessary at all!" he retorted. "I advise you to stay up-town and take an account of stock. I won't expect you until next Monday; and you needn't show up then if there's anything you'd rather do."
I started to take a taxi, recoiled, and descended to the Subway. While shooting up-town I surreptitiously examined Miss Peterson's schedule:
1917 (9 mos.)... 39,656.10
These totals were neatly itemized under various general headings such as Rent, Taxes, Supplies, Motor, Mrs. Stanton, Servants, Travel, Charity, Miss Margery, Repairs, Furnishings, Medical, Light and Heat, and so on. It made me almost sick to look at the thing. It was preposterous!
"1916-Mr. Stanton-$3,714.27," for instance! How on earth could I have spent any such sum on
myself? Mentally I reviewed my disbursements of the preceding year. Yes; I had joined the Riding Club at an expense, including the initiation fee, of $400, and I had ordered my usual number of overcoats and suits at an average of $90 each. My club dues had come to $670 and my club bills to $443.20. There were also sundry items camouflaged on my stubs under the mystic symbol of "Pk," which stood for poker losses. The amount of these shall remain undisclosed for the sake of posterity. On the whole, the $3,714.27 was pretty well explained.
I found my wife lunching in the sunlit private suite at the Chatwold she had engaged to tide us over temporarily until she could secure her staff of servants.
"Sit down," she said. "The waiter will be back presently. What will you have poulet en casserole or salmis of Long Island duckling? The salade russe is delicious.”
"I'll have a roast-beef sandwich and a cup of coffee," I answered shortly. "Look here, Helen; just make the most of that poulet en casserole. I hate to break it to you-but this is no place for us!"
"Why, John!" she exclaimed. "What is the matter? Have we lost money?"
"Don't you know that we are at war?"
"Of course! What are you going to do-buy Liberty Bonds?"
I laughed a hollow laugh.
"No! We're busted-that is, we're fifteen thousand dollars a year poorer than when we left New York; and that comes pretty close to busting us-living as we do."
She looked at me wearily. She seemed very tired. I had expected some sort of outburst, but nothing of the sort occurred.
"How much have we got left?" she inquired vaguely after a pause.
"Oh, something over twenty-five thousand dollars a year," I answered.
I confess I had looked forward to this disclosure with apprehension verging on panic. I was still exactly as much in love with Helen as the day she had become my wife; we were perhaps the happiest married couple I knew. The only thing that ever came between us, that in any way detracted from our complete sympathy, was that sometimes I felt that she expended her intellect upon objects unworthy of her. These objects were chiefly concerned with the material comfort of her existence the polish on the machinery of her life.
It seemed to me that the polish had taken on for her a greater importance than the machinery. She was preoccupied with appearances. Everything in the house always had to look exactly as if it were new. There were always painters and upholsterers about, and my bills for repairs never were less than a thousand dollars a year. Our house was a pattern
of luxury and taste. Our servants were models of dexterity and neatness. Our cooks were inevitably mistresses of the culinary art. Our life ran as if on ball bearings, without a sound, without a hitch. Seven people could have their breakfasts in bed without causing the slightest disarrangement in our ménage. Our friends said Helen was a wonderful housekeeper. I thought she was just a wonderful little spender.
Our automobile was exquisite. René always looked as if he had just stepped out of a show-case, and the motor was done over every year. Helen didn't seem to have any time for the things she and I had regarded as important when we were engaged. I regarded her as ease-loving-trifling, superficial.
I see now that I was wrong—at least to the extent of thinking that it was Helen's real character to be like that. It was rather that she had simply let herself go with the current and taken non-essentials seriously because the rest of her friends did so. Her trouble was not individual; it was endemic. And it was allied to ophthalmia. So I had anticipated tears, if not a scene, when she should learn our situation. She looked a little worried, it is true; but she did not protest.
"I suppose it will mean giving up the motor-and our house?"
"It does seem too bad to have to lose René," she murmured. "And the car ran too beautifully this morning!" she added wistfully. "However, I should think anybody ought to be able to get along on twentyfive thousand dollars a year in war time. I want to live as well as I can, but I don't want to live any better. If that's all we've got we'll have to manage. I'm sorry for Margery, though.'
I had been thinking of Margery myself. She was in every way a charming girl, and her mother had for years looked forward to bringing her out in society with the customary New York display. Poor Margery! There would be mighty little chance for magnificence on our reduced income.
At that precise moment, however, I was not thinking of Margery, but of my supposedly ease-loving wife. In place of making an indignant outburst, she sat there quite calmly, agreeing without a moment's hesitation to readjust her entire scale of life. Poor dear! I thought. She didn't know what it was going to involve. What real sacrifices she would be called upon to make, habituated as she was to luxury! But, whether she knew or not, she was a brave woman and I admired her as I never had before.
"Darling!" I exclaimed, putting my arm about her, for the waiter had not returned. "You're a real little brick-the real stuff! I didn't care for myselfonly for you."